PRESS EDITORIAL: Where knowledge and community service abide

The invention of paper spurred the creation of libraries in ancient times. 

People who believe that the invention of digital forms of recording knowledge to replace paper more than 2,000 years later has condemned libraries to extinction may find that fact ironic.

But there is no irony because libraries are not going extinct. On the contrary, they are thriving. Look no further than Port Washington’s public library for proof of that.

Paper in many forms, especially printed books, still contributes to the robust health of the institutions, even as libraries like Port’s take advantage of the power of the internet, computer storage of data and electronic communication to advance their mission.

As neutral, nonpolitical repositories of knowledge, libraries are more necessary than ever in the digital age as a counterweight to the misinformation and disinformation that thrive in social media and elsewhere on the internet alongside its many attributes.

Public libraries remain a fundamental element of civilization, especially in democratic societies. By making knowledge free to all who want it, they are agents of human freedom. There is a reason, after all, that when despots try to steal that freedom, they burn the books.

All of this is background music for the good news about Port Washington’s W. J. Niederkorn Library. The news is that the library is setting up a foundation, with help from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, to raise money for expanded services, new programs and upgraded facilities.

In 1960, Bill Niederkorn, founder of Simplicity Manufacturing Co., then Port Washington’s largest industry, got naming rights to the library that would be built kitty-corner from his elegant home on Grand Avenue with a generous donation. Since then the library has been supported mainly by taxpayers.

The library does well with the funding it gets. Its collections and services have grown, and “business” is great. Library director Tom Carson says 70% of city residents have library cards and that on a single day earlier this month more than 700 people came to the library to use its resources.

Carson summed up the library’s appeal: “It’s a place for books and library materials, for WiFi and computers. It’s also a place to study, a place to have small group meetings. It’s place for tutoring and for outreach efforts.”

He added, “We need a better space for that.”

That is precisely the point of the foundation. The library does good work and is poised to do even more for the community, but only funds from other sources than the city’s tax-funded stipend can make that happen.

The W. J. Niederkorn Library Foundation, as a nonprofit organization created to encourage and accept tax-deductible contributions, will need strong community support in the form of financial gifts and bequests. Here are two more reasons, besides helping to fund expansion of library services, that the foundation deserves that support:

The library, as a public service that functions on a high level, reflects a positive light on the community, enhancing a quality of life that attracts new residents and businesses.

The other reason is that the library is unique among even the most user-friendly businesses and government offices in the willing and unconditional helpfulness of its staff. 

Recently, a Port resident browsing in the book stacks observed and told Ozaukee Press about a woman who approached the front desk and confessed she had never used a computer and had no clue how to operate one, but urgently needed information from a website she heard about.

The young man on duty escorted her to a computer and gave a simple tutorial. When that left her still frustrated, he patiently searched out the website and found the information the library patron was looking for.

The relieved woman was overheard to say, “Thank you, I had no idea you would help me like this.” The library staffer replied, “You’re welcome. That’s what we do here.”


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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